Saturday 17 March 2012

A rescue mission for ARESUVA, ArtExpo

By Tajudeen Sowole

 Having had a lackluster year, which was blamed on non-capture of its programmes in the 2011 budget, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) is taking an aggressive approach to avoid the lull that dimmed its shinning image last year.

  NGA nearly ended 2011 without having a major event out of its three most important activities. In fact, it was a last minute effort that rescued the situation as the annual event, the ArtExpo Lagos 2011 was eventually held in December instead of its regular August period.

  The government agency’s biggest art event African Regional Summit on Visual Arts and Exhibition (ARESUVA) was not so lucky as it failed to make its debut as a biennale. It was last held in 2009 as an annual event. Also, NGA-organised annual gathering of artists in the academia, National Symposium on Visual Arts, could not hold.   
The then First Lady, (Dr) Turai Umaru Yar’Adua, (middle) receiving Reports and Publications of the first editions of Art Expo Nigeria and African Regional Summit and Exhibition on Visual Arts (ARESUVA), from the Director-General National Gallery of Art (NGA), Chief Joe Musa while former Head of Service Ms. Ama Pepple (left) watches.

Artists and other stakeholders were already preparing for ArtExpoLagos 2011, when the ‘news’ filtered out that the federal government did not have any budgetary allocation for NGA’s programmes. Over the years, critics of NGA have faulted the parastatal’s sole dependence on government’s budgetary allocation to carry out these and other events. Government’s allocation, they argued, shouldn’t be the main source of funding for events that are, potentially, attractive to private sector input.

  And with the agitation for reducing running cost of governance, how does the NGA hope to survive, just in case there is another zero capture of its programmes in 2012 budget? 

   Responding, Director-General, Dr. Abdullahi Muku, few days ago, disclosed that the House and Senate Committees on Tourism, Culture and National Orientation “have given their words to capture most of NGA programmes in this year’s budget.”

  According to Muku, the lawmakers at the National Assembly appeared to have realised the importance of the art and culture sector as an alternative or additional source of revenue generation for the country. The members, he explained “believe that if the culture and tourism sector is adequately supported, it shall be the future major revenue base of the country, and also a major employer of labour.”
A section of the exhibition space of ARESUVA 2009

   Despite its importance to the creative sections of culture and tourism, NGA appeared to have been underfunded. In fact, the main purpose of setting up the parastatal, which is the building of a national gallery of art complex, is yet to be achieved 18 years after the agency was created. However, government’s initiative of Public-Private Partnership (PPP), on which ArtExpo Lagos is structured, has not also shown any prospect since the event made its debut in 2008.

  NGA’s partner in the ArtExpo Lagos venture, Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN) has insisted that the hope of having a robust partnership with government was getting stronger in every edition despite inability to secure sponsor for the event.

  Strengthening the search for PPP is part of the new approach of NGA to rescue these major events from becoming moribund, Muku assured. He stated that NGA has “drawn a plan of action on PPP-drive to complement the efforts by government in funding this sub-sector.” He disclosed that NGA has appointed a consultant. In fact, the move, he stated, “is already yielding results.”  Details, he assured, would be unveiled soon.

   If the decision to make ARESUVA a biennale is still intact, the event will not hold until 2013. To hold ARESUVA as a biennale in non-even number years was designed to prevent a clash with Dak’ Art, which holds every other year with even number. The Dak’Art, arguably the largest gathering of African artists home and in the Diaspora, which holds in Dakar, Senegal, makes its 10th edition this year. 
At the 2009 ARESUVA: Nigerian artist, Biodun Omolayo (left), renowned Ethiopian artist, Lema Guya and a Ghanaian artist

  Muku stressed: “ARESUVA is supposed to be alternating with Dak’Art, which holds this year. We are preparing for next year ARESUVA.”

 In a year that ARESUVA is not holding, it is expected that ArtExpo Lagos 2012 would be better organised and restore the euphoria as well as hope, which the event generated in 2008.

  Observers and concerned stakeholders have always canvassed a rejuvenated NGA. And perhaps, the strength that the culture agency actually needs to gain the confidence of the private sector and explore the vast potential in contemporary Nigerian art may lay in the proposed bill, Repeal and Re-enactment of the 1993 Act, which set up the agency. The Act was last amended in 2004.

  In 2008, during the Sixth National Assembly, the bill was sponsored by Honourable Tunde Akogun, had its first public hearing on November 16, 2010 and got stocked. Reason: there was no consensus on certain provisions of the draft document between the government officials as represented by the leadership of the NGA and visual arts practitioners.
Dr Abdullahi Muku, the current D-G of National Gallery of Art (NGA)

  And for the bill to be re-considered by the current 7th Assembly, it has to be re-presented. Early this year, the Chairman, House Committee on Culture and Tourism, Hon Ben Nwankwo disclosed that it was “not yet presented.”

  However, Muku appeared to have set the motion in place when he disclosed that he was “already talking to the Chairmen of the House and Senate Committees, as well as discussing with Culture and Tourism Minister, Chief Edem Duke to re-present it as an Executive Bill.

 Muku had insisted that NGA had “the good intention,” for the bill, but noted that this was “being misunderstood, but we shall not be discouraged at all.”

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